By Bishop Theotonius Gomes CSC, President of Caritas Bangladesh
Bishop Theotonius Gomes CSC is President of Caritas Bangladesh. He travelled to international climate negotiations in Poznan in 2008 and in Copenhagen in 2009 as part of Caritas efforts to get a fair deal for the poor.
In Bangladesh, food is the basic daily concern. There is much unjust poverty. There is a lack of “daily bread” for many. The smallest available food is treated with great care; and it brings joy to the poor.
The success of any government, aid agency, society or family lies in providing food security. Bangladesh has achieved three times higher food production over the last four decades by maximizing new technology. But progress is under threat as a result of rising sea levels and extreme or unusual weather patterns.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Bangladesh will lose the largest amount of cultivated land globally due to rising sea levels. A 1m rise in sea levels would inundate 20 percent of the country’s landmass.
An alarmingly large number of people of this very densely populated land will become refugees if more land is lost to the sea. Weather-related disasters will affect the extensive agriculture and food production.
Successive governments have opted for large-scale rural responses to provide food security. The present government is about to launch a scheme called “one house, one farm” focusing on food security at the household level.
The geographical focus of the government is towards the south and southwestern part of the country. Large quantities of land there remain unutilized throughout the year due to predominantly rain-based cultivation.
Caritas Bangladesh prioritizes poor households and the indigenous community in its food security programmes. They cover organic farming practices and respect for the environment and bio-diversity. Caritas also promotes farmer-to-farmer sharing and collective efforts to achieve food security and raising awareness on how to manage limited resources.
For example, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Caritas works with indigenous people to improve food production in this remote area. A total of 2400 families receive training and are helped to link up better to markets. They produce fruit, vegetables and cash crops and it is already making a huge difference.
Meanwhile, in the coastal areas of Rampal, Mongla, Sharonkhola upazila, Caritas is helping local communities with rice-shrimp cultivation so they adapt to rising sea levels by diversifying their livelihoods. And in the high and dry land in the north, in Nachol, Porsha, Potnitola and Dhamoirhat, Caritas is supporting indigenous people and others to manage their water resources better to improve their ability to overcome drought.